I’ll plant a tree when you buy my book, because trees are the great stabiliser of our environment. They make our air breathable, improve our soils, and many feed us.
I’ve burned myself out and exist in a compromised state after I dwelt in the sad truths of our species (massacres, war, environmental etc.). When I found a local contribution I could make (planting a food forest) I hit a money-requirement wall which lead me to overwork up to breaking point. I’m now processing the wave of sadness which consequently rolled in, and planting trees is the only thing that makes me feel better. So this is mostly a selfish pursuit 🙂
This post explains why I decided to plant a tree for each pre-order, if you want to read how I’ll do it, read this.
How I got here
My evenings had become full of fizzing rage. My brain felt mauled and my eyes burned. I snapped at those closest, and myself. Every daytime hour I buried myself in work. This setup eventually lead to breakdowns, and panic attacks, which collapsed me into a compromised state.
Something was pissing me off. I’d recover, and do the same damned thing again. I’ve been stuck in that loop for a few years now, and even with reading and meditating, tweaking and trying, I’m only just starting to figure it out.
Eventually I found a moment amongst the stress to dig in and track these feelings to their source. What else had I been doing? Was this a cocktail effect? Screen time and French wine?
I skipped back through my mental ‘history’ and found it. Facebook (or more specifically – my social feeds). But it wasn’t just the blue colour-scheme, designed to trigger the pathways in my brain related to “daytime” blue skies — to keep me awake and scrolling. It wasn’t the bullshit ads for shit no one should buy. It wasn’t the hollow harpings of my social choir.
It was the stories.
The way social media has evolved is to provide us with an ever looping echo chamber of our preference. We like or ignore posts about subjects and social media uses it’s giant machine brain to plot a narrative that’ll please us. It’s become our priest and our story-teller, and it wants sole custody of our traditions, our memes, and our political outlook. Somewhere on Facebook’s servers is a bastardised version of yourself — a machine-learned counterpart with none of your complex humanity, but a fairly accurate model of what interests you.
And what interests me, and has for at least the facebook-enabled-decade, is the truth.
But what truth gets clicked most? Hard, painful, sad, fear-inducing, grim, etc.
Knowing the technology and the dark patterns, I had told myself, meant I was less corralled by the thing. I could log in, conscious of the fan-service clickbait and just message a friend. Lies. All of us are human. We are all subject to compromised logic a chunk of the time. Many things can mess with our rationality — if we’re ever lucky enough to have found a way to build some in. These meat vehicles and thought protocols can be perfected, surely, but it might not be us, this generation alive now, who achieves that. We should plan accordingly.
Years of liking Chomsky articles, Permaculture posts and posting Bill Hicks specials had steered and trimmed this social bubble until it reflected where I’d reached. Cynicism as a way of dealing with brutal truths. An addiction to the bleak side of the universe, overextended beyond a sensible ‘weathering’.
Degrees of truth
It’s taken me an embarrassing amount of words to get to the meat here.
By spending years absorbing hard facts about humanity, our tendency and our history, I had built for myself a nest of sadness. Massacres, environmental idiocy, and brutal unfairness is the real picture, or at least a part of it, (not commonly told). We in this system have been, and continue to, tell ourselves comforting lies. Things are not okay. Our bubble is protected. Our wellbeing assured by zeros and ones in a guarded data warehouse. But if you even slightly poke your head out of that false cocoon, you’ll see quite a different story. In unconsciously forming my Facebook feed I’d created an environment which nearly took my head off each time I entered it. It gave me a little glimpse of a bigger truth. It was lop-sided, over-emphasised, but real. Monsanto do exist. History is full of winners-lies. And ultimately, where this was heading for me: we are shitting on our own doorstep.
It sucks to acknowledge it. I know. But then I started looking for remedies…
“Nothing happens to anybody which he is not fitted by nature to bear.”
— Marcus Aurelius
The search for land
Land, I subconsciously, (and later consciously) realised, was my fix. A personal, achievable action to balance some of this bad. I’d happened into Permaculture, and then Forest Gardening in 2016. The word Permaculture is my kind of a word. Permanent culture: as in rationally building ways of living which don’t trip ourselves up. If we were to draw a spectrum of mental models – what would the end points be? For me, I’d put Permaculture far on one end.
Capitalism, or whatever word you want to use to describe what we’re doing these days isn’t particularly well thought out. It doesn’t take much internet browsing to see it — for it’s occasional good human stewardship, it trips itself up chronically. Mine one place and sell to another? But you need that mined land later – if your infinite plan for expansion should materialise. It’s a short-sighted carnival, with only a few tent poles, and a lot of human sweat, holding it together.
Permaculture, on the other hand, is living by design. It’s long-sighted. It thinks about tomorrow, about the self, and more than anything, it accepts. These two ideologies probably don’t make up the extremes of a spectrum, but personally, I’d rather be toward the end which is self-aware — the end which isn’t constantly tripping its brother up, only to find out that it’s a conjoined twin.
So land, then, was my way out. Buy a few acres, do it right. Plant enough for me and others. Steward and promote and try. Try damn it try. And I still am trying.
So why wasn’t looking at land solving this painful angry state? Rather, it seemed to be lumped in with the beating that the internet was giving me with its fists of truth. Well, then there’s the local truths. George Monbiot taught me (via the internet, and his great book Feral), about the enclosure movement — wherein common lands and small landholdings were grouped and enclosed, and peasants rights revoked, creating a farmer & labour split which ultimately lead to the moving of people into cities. As this ideology continues to dominate here less and less farmers end up owning more and more land per head.
Access to land is a big deal now, especially for the interior me whom just wants a fucking way to offset the misery. When I would look at land, I would see the opportunity. The huge potential of a ragged old field that’d housed sheep for three decades. The food and wellness it could sustain. It felt like a super-power — potential-vision, it still does. And this pursuit will, ultimately, pan out — I’ll find land and plant trees. But the reason it still aggravated me was the feasibility problem.
Land prices have risen steadily here, as have house prices. (I’m aware that what I pay in rent I could shift into a mortgage and buy a place, aren’t I lucky that I get to pay 200% for a house at an inflated price? I should be thankful even for that, I am aware.) But then you look at the planning and governing around land combined with houses and you hit an idiotic wall, built three times too thick to make up for its stupid design. To buy a house, and any acreage, in Britain, is expensive (and increasingly rare, as land-holders buy up land that sits next to theirs). To do so within a few hours of London (where most of my family chose to exist), is beyond the reach of even most bankers. To buy land separate to a house is feasible, though increasingly only available in gigantic lumps or in tiny planning-enabled plots at gigantic prices. It’s an awkward, wonky position, created by corrupt or ill-thought-out legislation.
So, then, to help me have an outlet to offset the awful reality I’ve learned I have to participate in the system enough to siphon off shiny-things equating to more money than most people earn ever. Just to farm a few acres. As sincere and researched as my intention, this place at this time, does not support rational sustainable living. Great — another painful truth. And that’s where I found myself. Laying in bed, laptop closed, struggling against the wrongs, caged from enacting a visible solution.
I was frustrated.
… So I worked harder. I burned every caffeine-filled cell I had to make money, to deserve, (in this biased gambling house of a system), the opportunity to cultivate land. I made some cash, perhaps enough to beg a bank to help me acquire a few-allotments worth of sheep-sick land. But now I am broken, and persist in a compromised state. I happily pay, if this is what is required, but I’m not sure it is.
So this is me. This is why I am going to plant a tree for every pre-order of this book. And plant more, and write more, too, because you can’t stop me. I’m going to use every bit of energy I have left to balance against these things I’ve learned and don’t like. This is going to be my tiny dent in the universe, probably, and I welcome it as part of the ride. These systems we’ve developed, mental models for the individual and governmental ones for the species, are dysfunctional. They always will be. And so the only rational thing we can do is try to disregard the useless parts, to let go — to find and invent new parts that work better for the whole (which is in itself, a cascading loop). To thrive in these times we must not shy away from truths, but stomach them, and turn them to fuel.
We must plant trees because you can only do something long-sighted when you believe in the future.